The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

November 1996

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 6 October 96 Copyright ©1996 alt.screenwriters

Terry: Now to discuss the Interactive Schedule of Minimums…

Deborah: Okay…Simple. No tables. Nothing to refer to. It’s a buck. Low-budget, high-budget, makes no difference. One buck. When it comes to negotiating a deal, anything’s possible in interactive writing, because there’s no MBA!

Terry: So the screenwriter is in the position of Alice after she’s crawled down the rabbit hole…

Deborah: And the writer had better look out for the cheshire cat and the hookah-smoking caterpillar…

Terry: In the “linear” world, the front end part of a deal is pretty easy to work out, all things considered. The Schedule of Minimums provides the floor. Chances are you have your “quote”. Maybe your agent can sweeten things a bit. There might be a little back-and-forth on commencement money, number of drafts, etc. Delivery schedules are more or less standardized for episodes and features.

Deborah: And none of that is applicable to Interactive.

Terry: A huge problem is just defining the scope of the job. For features, I know I’m looking at 110-120 pages. Sitcoms: 30 pages.

Deborah: But interactive projects can be 15 pages or 1500 pages.

Terry: And the scope of your services can change (usually escalating) over time. It’s possible you came onboard solely to write dialogue, and over time became the designer (roughly equivalent to becoming a showrunner). In the “linear” world, this kind of thing can’t happen. A sitcom doesn’t suddenly become Lawrence of Arabia. You don’t get hired by ER to do a polish on an episode and find yourself the showrunner the next day without negotiating a new contract.

Deborah: Working with no contract at all happens, and can be very dangerous! It’s done in the name of tight deadlines, or when no one is sure what they really need; that’s why they’ve hired you in the first place — to help figure it out!

Terry: So Rule No.1 in negotiating the Front End of an interactive deal: the contract has to be as specific as possible in describing the scope of your services.

Deborah: To avoid the trap of working too long for too little, you should specify a time period with deliverables, rather than “for the length of the project.” If the size of the project drastically changes, you should consider submitting a Change Order to modify the time period, deliverables, and money.

Terry: Because a 3-month project can go 18 — and if you’re not careful, you won’t get paid any extra for it. Don’t trust project descriptions like “add-on” or “update” or “revision”, and version numbers with decimal points in them. They have nothing to do with the amount of work a screenwriter has to do.

Deborah: You get paid in the mid-six figures for each interactive project, right?

Terry: And here I thought that was your quote… An observation: don’t believe what you hear when it comes to inflated fees and interactive writing. Think of the budgets on these projects: they run from $100K to $2mil. Only a handful have ever gone over that amount. So how much can the writer possibly get?

Deborah: Typically 5% of the budget, if you can get the publisher to disclose what the budget is, and if they actually know what they want you to do.

Terry: But there are lots of variables.

Deborah: Yes, indeed. Are you a writer-for-hire doing content writing, dialog, backstory, design, or all of the above? Or, is this your original creation? Take note: some publishers still confuse writing with typing. I was once asked to design and write a series of games, and was told I would get paid by the word! Needless to say, I passed.

Terry: I have two minimum requirements on the Front End of a deal. One is commencement money; the other is P&W — in other words, the company is going to have to sign the Guild’s IPC if it wants my services. You have to draw a line somewhere — that’s mine.

Deborah: These are just a few of the things to consider. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the Back End of a deal yet.

Terry: Back Ends! Don’t get me started…

Written by tborst

October 6, 1996 at 4:27 am

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